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Initiate a Discussion Meeting Revolution!

Discussion meetings are the most important of Soka Gakkai activities. Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi has said that the primary elements of a discussion meeting’s success are 1) experiences that show actual proof of the teaching and 2) particpants who are seeking to be convinced of the validity of the teaching, meaning to bring and warmly welcome guests. Besides these elements, it’s up to us, as disciples of the three founding presidents, to make the discussion meetings inspiring and interesting, with content that will spark curiosity and a desire to understand Buddhism on a deeper level.

In July 2019, we will hold Youth Discussion Meetings at the chapter level across the SGI-USA to display the joy of discussion meetings to the youth and to incorporate new ideas to make the meetings inspiring. We will gather 25,000 youth at these Youth Discussion Meetings as a stepping stone to increasing attendance at all discussion meetings, culminating in gathering 60,000 members and guests in November 2019!

The following excerpts on discussion meetings are from the “Guiding Star” chapter of volume 13 of The New Human Revolution. In this chapter, President Ikeda voices his determination to initiate a discussion meeting revolution and demonstrates how to achieve this based on his own example. Events from this chapter occur in 1968. SGI President Ikeda appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

Discussion Meetings

“The Soka Gakkai discussion meeting, where members and their friends could participate in a frank exchange of ideas, represented an open forum for dialogue and an arena for introducing people to Nichiren Buddhism. It was a place where people could experience the Soka Gakkai firsthand and gain an accurate understanding of the organization. As long as discussion meetings were enriching and abounded with energy and joy, kosen-rufu would never cease to advance.” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 13, p. 145)

Central Figures’ Determination

“Everything is determined by the firm resolve of the meeting’s central figures as well as the invited leaders.

“The original purpose of the discussion meeting was to serve as a forum for Buddhist dialogue and propagation. Both President Makiguchi and President Toda put enormous effort into thoroughly responding to any inquiries from guests. With absolute conviction, they would offer logical explanations as to why Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism was the correct teaching and what constituted the path to true happiness. In this way, discussion meetings were at the forefront of the struggle to spread the Mystic Law. The first and second presidents also did their utmost to encourage their fellow members who came to a meeting, wanting to give them hope and confidence. Inevitably, those who attended such gatherings would leave feeling invigorated.

“In other words, the success of a discussion meeting wholly depends on the central figures’ determination and capacity to provide persuasive explanations to members and guests alike, to bring them joy and inspire them to further deepen their faith.” (NHR-13, 146)

Striving for Full Attendance at Discussion Meetings

“Full attendance should be the general rule for discussion meetings. It goes without saying that all leaders, including the chapter, headquarters and national level leaders, should participate in some meeting on the appointed day.

“In preparing for a meeting, leaders should share responsibility for communicating to the members and encouraging them to come to the activity, doing their utmost to ensure 100 percent participation. The success of a discussion meeting depends not merely on what happens during the actual event, but on the advance preparations, including the efforts put into getting people to attend.” (NHR-13, 148)

After the Meeting

Upon returning to his lodgings, Shin’ichi continued to recall the faces of the members he had met that day, thinking of what he could do to encourage them. He decided to give prayer beads and other gifts to several of the members, including a junior high school student who had been sitting toward the back of the room at the Ichiba District discussion meeting. He also offered sincere prayers that evening for everyone to live long, healthy lives and for the prosperity of their families. (NHR-13, 172)

Shin’ichi Yamamoto’s Example

On October 19, Shin’ichi attended the discussion meeting of Kita District in Tokyo’s Higashi Jujo Chapter. It was held at the Soka Gakkai Kita Community Center, located in the Higashi Jujo area of Kita Ward. Since his schedule could not be confirmed until the very last moment, the members had not been notified of his visit.

Shin’ichi arrived about 10 minutes before the starting time of 7 p.m.

“Good evening!” he called out as he entered the room.

Looking in the direction of his voice, the members were taken aback at the unexpected sight of him. Kiyoshi Hosokawa, the district men’s leader, and Miyoko Megumida, the district women’s leader, were so astounded that they were at a loss for words.

As soon as the goal of improving discussion meetings had been announced at the September Headquarters Leaders Meeting, the members in Kita District had worked together to create truly wonderful gatherings. As a result, they had been able to host a meeting later that month with an exciting agenda that drew 69 participants.

On that occasion, Megumida had appealed to everyone: “Tonight’s meeting was a tremendous success, but let’s make the next one even better! I believe that the greatest discussion meeting of all would be one attended by President Yamamoto. Therefore, setting that as our aim, let’s devote our energies to getting a full turnout and preparing for such an eventuality.”

Everyone expressed their agreement. They then decided the next meeting would be held not at the regular district meeting site but at the community center, in a room that could accommodate a larger number of people.

Encouraging one another daily with the words, “Let’s welcome President Yamamoto to our discussion meeting!” they chanted with increased enthusiasm. The women’s division, in particular, used every spare moment to sincerely chant for their goal to be realized.

Now, their prayer had become a reality.

Megumida was so amazed that it took several seconds before she managed to exclaim: “President Yamamoto!”

So far, only about a dozen people had assembled for the meeting.

“I was originally scheduled to attend another discussion meeting today,” Shin’ichi explained, “but time and other factors led me to come here. It was as if a magnet were pulling me. I’m sure you’ve all been chanting. Nothing is a match for people who are chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”

Megumida felt as if she were dreaming. But it was unmistakably President Yamamoto standing before her eyes. She thought, There’s nothing that cannot be accomplished with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo! She was convinced more than ever of the incredible power of prayer.

“Let’s recite the sutra,” Shin’ichi proposed. “I’m sure the others will be here shortly.” He thus began leading everyone in the recitation. Seated next to him, Megumida would stop now and again, fighting back tears of joy.

One after another, the members started arriving. When the recitation finished and Shin’ichi turned around, they all looked stiff and rigid.

Smiling, Shin’ichi said: “Thank you so much for coming to the meeting tonight. Please relax and sit comfortably. This is a gathering of the Soka family, so I hope you’ll make yourselves at home. You must be tired after a hard day’s work, so let’s avoid any formal or difficult discussions. Please feel free to share whatever is on your mind, and ask any questions you’d like.”

Shin’ichi’s words put the members at ease.

A woman sitting in the third row raised her hand with some trepidation and stood up, saying: “Sensei, I’d like to ask you about my eldest son, who is in his last year of junior high school. He suffered from polio when he was a child, and his hand is still slightly paralyzed. I’m very concerned about his future.”

Shin’ichi’s voice brimmed with conviction as he remarked: “You have nothing to worry about. Everyone is born with a profound mission. As long as your son maintains strong faith and practices throughout his life, he will absolutely become happy. Is your son here today?”

“Yes, he is,” the mother replied, turning around to look for him. A young man wearing a school uniform was sitting huddled in the back. “That’s him.”

“Please, come to the front! Thank you for attending tonight’s meeting,” Shin’ichi called out.

At this invitation, the boy moved forward, looking rather embarrassed. He disliked attending meetings, for it exhausted him to be around a lot of people. Moreover, he hated having to listen to the leaders’ difficult lectures.

On this day, he had therefore deliberately tried to return home late from school to avoid going to the discussion meeting with his mother. But he had run into her on the street as she was making her way to the meeting and so had no choice in the end but to accompany her. When Shin’ichi asked him to move closer, he regretted having come at all.

Shin’ichi had the boy sit right next to him and asked: “Which hand is it that’s troubling you?”

“It’s this one.” With downcast eyes, the boy extended his right hand.

Shin’ichi firmly grasped the boy’s hand with both of his. In his heart, he said: “No matter what happens, live out your life vigorously! Become a victor in life and be happy without fail!”

In that moment, the soft murmur of Shin’ichi chanting could be heard. His ardent wish for the boy’s growth and development had manifested as a prayer.

“What’s your favorite sport?” Shin’ichi asked.

“I like playing baseball,” the boy said, glancing upward.

“So, you can play baseball. That’s wonderful. It seems that you’re already in pretty good shape,” Shin’ichi added warmly.

A gentle smile appeared on the boy’s face.

“Though you may experience hardships in the future, please don’t give up and be defeated by your own weaknesses. A person of genuine strength is one who is never beaten.”

The boy lifted his head, revealing eyes sparkling with fresh hope. Tears of joy also glistened in his mother’s eyes.

Shin’ichi continued: “If you remain cheerful and energetic, leading a courageous and happy life in spite of your disability, you will give hope to many others who face similar challenges. In other words, you have a mission that only you can accomplish.

“Once we understand our mission, we can feel tremendous joy and strength surging through our beings. Faith is what makes this possible. I hope, therefore, you’ll practice with conviction throughout your life.”

“I will!” the boy replied in a spirited voice.

“I’d like to present you with some prayer beads,” Shin’ichi then said, handing him the gift. Everyone applauded as he accepted it.

“Congratulations!” “Do your best!” Shouts of encouragement, infused with the warmth of the Soka family, resounded throughout the room.(NHR-13, 172–77)

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